July-August 2007 Selected Content
Learning 101 - Tamra Orr
To Read ... Perchance to Learn
How do you know that you are doing a good job as a homeschooler? Is it when your children go out into the "real world" and respond to people with good manners and maturity? Is it when one of your kids pipe up with some witty, spontaneous, and erudite response when Uncle Bill or Cousin Martha asks what the capital of Montana is? Is it when your tween-aged child is reading college level material and asking for more? Is it when you look in the living room and see your kids actually talking and studying with each other and -- dare we even say it -- communicating? You might think so. Heck, even I might think so. But to the world at large, the key to being a quality, knowledgeable, respected homeschooler is (can you guess?) if your child can r-e-a-d.
Yes, reading is the golden key to all education, right? Step inside my house for a moment and you would certainly think that I thought so. I have more books than anyone I know. My father once told me when I was about 14 years-old that the way to my heart was clearly a new bookshelf. My husband would have to agree. Forget roses and chocolate. Bring me a new bookcase anytime. I love to read. I love to open covers and turn pages. I read books. I collect books. I write books. Life without reading, to me, would be empty and so very sad.
So, of course, my kids would read. I was a little surprised that they weren't born with books in their hands. I realize it was dark in there but they had all that free time.
I read out loud to my first child a couple of hours a day. She graduated from chewing on books to playing with them and then to following along with her finger while I read. So when she turned six, it was time to read. Maybe on my schedule, but not hers. We escalated from a fun lesson to tears in a matter of days. Long story way shortened -- I stopped "teaching" and she started learning. By age nine, she was reading high school level books and avidly. Put me on the Homeschooling Parent Poster of the Year. Smugness is not recommended, however.
Along came child #2. She did not read at age six...or 7...8, 9, 10 or 11. Suddenly, I was star of the Homeschooling Parental Neglect Poster, at least, according to the public. I got looks and side comments and other negative feedback when people realized that this child of mine could not read. Because no one can learn if they don't read -- right?
She learned at age 12. Since then, she has read voraciously and like her older sister, writes up a storm.
Child #3. A boy this time. Not only did he not learn how to read at age six, he did not care. He liked being read to and would listen forever, but put a book in his hand and he could not have cared less. Instead, this child asked questions and more questions and more questions. Not just from us, of course. He asked the man cleaning the window at the bagel store. He asked the woman serving his food at the restaurant. He asked the janitor at the library. He asked anyone who would actually listen to him and give him an answer. And he learned. He retained everything and, to this day, has the best memory in the family. He learned how to read when he was 13. He reads non-stop now but, on the road to get there, he was teased in Boy Scouts. He was embarrassed at parties. What do you mean you can't read the directions you have been given? Heaven forbid someone read the directions to him and see that he can follow them perfectly. By now I didn't even get to be on any poster.
Finally, along came child #4. He decided one night, when he was six years-old, that it was time for him to read. We sat down with a 40 year-old Dick and Jane book and an hour later, he was reading. He now reads faster than any of us. Oh look! The poster is back on the wall.
Personally, I did not have trouble with how each one of my kids learned to read. I ached for the ones who took longer, not because of what they were supposedly missing, but because of the teasing they had to suffer from others. I became continually more aware of how much this culture focused on reading as the hallmark of intelligence. Illiterate equals stupid, right? Poor, poor child cannot read. Well, believe it or not, there was a time when no one could read. Were all of those people stupid? No, they simply found alternative ways of learning and who is to say that those ways are inferior?
Don't misunderstand. I think reading is pretty essential in today's world. (Heck, I am a writer, after all. Of course I support reading!) It is a skill that plays a major role in virtually every single profession. I am thrilled to walk in a room and see all three of my kids (one is grown and married) sitting around the living room with books in their hands. One of my favorite family activities is to all crawl into our king size bed and sleeping bags around the floor, put on some music we can agree on and read. We stop and read the best parts aloud to each other; we share something really funny; we ask each other what a word means, and we even swap books now and then.
However, I feel like the huge emphasis on reading in our society is somewhat misplaced. We need to respect the learner who interprets the world with his or her hands or ears. We need to be patient with the child who isn't interested in learning how to read. My personal Literacy Formula is three part: (1) Be a role model and read yourself for education and pleasure; (2) Read to your child(ren) so they can see the fun of it and (3) Have books all around the house so that kids can pick them up when they want to. Perhaps I should add (4) Recognize that every child has a different timetable for reading and while s/he is not reading, s/he is learning all the time in other ways.
Reading is a fantastic way to learn, but it is not the only way to learn. Hey, maybe that is what belongs on a poster!
© 2007, Tamra Orr